Transitioning to New Monitoring Equipment Jan. 2, 2014

The transition to the Federal Equivalency Method (FEM) monitoring for PM2.5 at the Squamish and Whistler stations will take place effective Jan 2, 2014.  On that day, data from the older TEOM technology will be switched to the data from the new BAM technology.  This will affect the publicly available data on the BC air quality website and the AQHI calculation.  The BAM data will also be used for reporting and assessment and in determining the issuance of air quality advisories.

The BAM instrumentation is capable of obtaining a more representative sample of PM2.5, especially the more volatile components often ‘lost’ by the older TEOM instrumentation.  Therefore, PM2.5 concentrations reported at Squamish and Whistler are likely to be higher.  This does not mean that air quality is getting worse; the newer instrumentation is simply better able to measure all components of PM2.5 (see infographic and FAQ’s below).

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B.C. improves air quality monitoring of PM2.5

Q: What is PM2.5?

A: PM2.5, or fine particulate matter, refers to microscopic solid and liquid particles that are 2.5 micrometres or smaller in diameter – about 1/30th the width of a human hair. Fine particulate matter is considered the most important outdoor air pollutant in B.C. from a public health perspective.

Q: What is being changed in the way we monitor PM2.5, and why?

A: B.C. has brought in new air quality monitors to monitor PM2.5 in real time. The old monitors heat the air sample to remove moisture. Heating the air causes part of the sample to evaporate, which results in a lower PM2.5 measurement. The new monitors provide a more complete measure of PM2.5 by accounting for the particulate matter that wasn’t being measured by the older instruments due to evaporation.

Q: Does this mean that PM2.5 measurements will increase with the new monitors and, if so, by how much?

A: Testing to date suggests that PM2.5 measurements may increase with the new monitors, but the amount will vary from site to site, depending on the type of particulate matter present and the local temperature. The largest differences are expected in colder areas of B.C. where wood smoke is prevalent. These differences will be better understood with the ongoing collection of more data.

Q: What are other jurisdictions doing?

A: The new FEM (Federal Equivalent Method) monitors are the accepted standard in the United States and Canada. Jurisdictions across Canada are in the process of upgrading their monitoring networks, and Quebec has already made these changes.

Q: How is B.C. currently measuring this pollutant?

A: The Ministry of Environment, in association with Metro Vancouver, operates an extensive monitoring network that includes over 40 TEOM monitors (Thermo Scientific Ambient Particulate Monitor) that provide hourly measurements in real time, and about 40 noncontinuous instruments that provide daily measurements every three to six days. Most locations in the province currently using the older monitors will be upgraded with the new technology, subject to available resources and an assessment of local needs.

Q: Does this mean that the PM2.5 data collected from the older instruments is of no value?

A: No – the TEOMs were the first instrument that allowed us to monitor PM2.5 in real time. Prior to that, we could wait months to find out the concentrations on a particular day. The TEOMs have allowed us to use PM2.5 measurements to issue air quality advisories when air quality is poor, and to provide the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to the public, to show the level of potential health risk posed by current air quality.

Q: What B.C. communities or regions have the highest PM2.5 levels, and why?

A: The highest PM2.5 levels are typically observed in the interior of the province, in communities such as Quesnel, Golden, Grand Forks, Smithers and Prince George. This is due to a combination of factors that include a concentration of local woodburning and other sources in valley bottoms, and intermittent temperature inversions that temporarily trap pollutants in these valley bottoms.

Q: How many new monitors are currently operating in the province?

A: As of June 2012, the Ministry of Environment has supported the installation of 22 new monitors around the province, outside the Lower Fraser Valley. Metro Vancouver is leading changes within the Lower Fraser Valley.

Q: Where can I find the data from the new monitors?

A: Widescale reporting of data from the new monitors will begin in 2013. At the handful of sites where the new monitors are the only PM2.5 instrument in a community, this data is already being publicly reported on

Q: What are the main sources of PM2.5?

A: Sources of PM2.5 from human and natural activities:

  •  29 % – Open burning
  •  27 % – Industry (pulp and paper, and wood)
  •  15 % – Residential wood combustion
  •  11% – Transportation
  •  8% – Other industry
  •  3% – Forest fires